Kearsarge Pass to Reds Meadow

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Just a word of warning…this post covers a long week so is a bit long, but some shorter sections are a-coming which is good for shorter posts for you and lower pack-weights for us:)

Day 54 (Continued)

Although we didn’t get an early start back to the Kearsarge Pass, we were still there by midday and luckily the weather was very cloudy with occasional raindrops so we didn’t get too hot on the climb back up to Kearsarge Pass. The forecast for the next 7 days was not great with about a 50% chance of rain most days.

Dark clouds abound as we hike back up to the high Sierras

On the desert floor we had been at around 4000 feet (~1300m). Jim drove us back up to 9200 foot Onion Valley Trailhead but then we still had to climb another 2600 feet up to the pass.

Back to the gorgeous views

As we climbed the rain soon became snow and it continued to snow lightly once on the other side of Kearsarge Pass.

Cashmere enjoying the freezing first anyway

After 5 or 6 miles we rejoined the PCT and began climbing towards Glen Pass. As we climbed we ran into two section hikers who warned us of horrible weather on Glen Pass. They spoke of dark menacing clouds, which scared them enough that they turned around. After some time thinking it over we decided to continue towards Glen Pass anyway as we didn’t have much else to do with ourselves.

A while later we came across two more hikers, a mother and daughter, walking from Glen Pass. We asked them about the conditions and they said it was okay though it had been a bit ominous earlier. Feeling more confident with our decision, we continued on through occasional light snow showers.

Views as we approach Glen Pass

Eventually, and after a fair amount of climbing we reached the top of the pass and it was very nice.

We had read that Glen Pass can be particularly treacherous to get down because it is quite steep and of course, was quite snowy. However we had been carrying our ice axes since Kennedy Meadows in hopes of an opportunity to use them to glacaide and as it turns out, the descent of Glen Pass presented a fine opportunity. And so we slid. Wheeee!

Cashmere demonstrating how to use an ice axe

Physio having a sliding good time

Better yet, it was getting into the earlier evening and the storms had decided to chill out so our slides and views were complemented by beautiful weather.

Physio in front of an impressive rocky mountain


As we descended through the interesting mountain and lake terrain the day faded and we stopped for a lovely dinner by a lake. Then characteristic of our usual routine, we walked a few more miles and set up camp in another fine lakeside location. Our recently re-stocked food was a bit too extensive for our bear canisters’ capacity so we chose a campsite with bear boxes where we could put the excess as we were well and truly in bear country by this stage.

Day 55

We awoke to fine weather the next morning, packed up camp, had breakfast and then started walking. As we were leaving camp we recognised our friend ‘Nips’ whose trail name Cashmere had donned. “Ah-huh. I thought I had seen a bunch of those airplane sized bottles of spirits in the bear box!” we thought to ourselves.

Nips was still packing up camp so we started walking on our own. After about five or so miles of walking through pleasant scenery we stopped for one thing and ended up having a morning tea of various snacks, particularly a huge (and heavy) sack of trail mix. While we were taking a break we heard some voices and were excited to see our friends ‘the Tits’, Bushtit and Tomtit, come around the corner. We have been walking a bit on and off with the tits since Mt Laguna (mile 42) and they also gave us our names. Yay!  We chatted with them for a bit and they eventually took off their packs and joined us. Bushtit even did Cashmere the favour of helping eat a little of the heavy trail mix. As we sat and caught up Nips came around the bend and joined the party too! What a boobalicious time.

Morning views

Eventually we all started walking again and poor Nips and Physio followed Cashmere along a wrong turn but luckily the Tits came and found the way and led us back on track. We all eventually made it to raging creek with a food looking swingbridge and we filtered water and then came to another milestone, 800!

We've made it 800 miles...

Unfortunately a look at Nips’ app confirmed what we had read on the maps the night before: we had a lot of climbing to do. We were at about 8,500 feet and needed to get up to Pinchot Pass at more than 12,000, just under 4,000 feet (~1300m) of climbing to do in the next 7 or so miles. Ugh. And our packs were really heavy with a week’s worth of food. What’s more the PCT was following the John Muir Trail for the next 100 miles and was thus not the nice undulating grade we were used to. Physio says that, in fact, John Muir once said, “Go fuck yourself”. Interestingly, Cashmere soon wanted to shoot the same quote right back to him. In fact all of us five were struggling with the seemingly never-ending climb.

On the John Muir Trail...

Then things got worse. It started raining. We stopped, got our rain jackets out and put them on. It stopped raining. We stopped and took them off. It started raining. We considered trying to walk without coats but we were getting up high where it was pretty cold. We put them on. The sun came back. We took them off…and well you get the picture.

Pretty descent weather

Coats back on, hike toward dark clouds

Eventually, and as we neared Pinchot Pass it became clear that the jackets had to stay on. It was cold and snowing pretty steady, not to mention we were walking through pre-existing snow and we could hear thunder cracking nearby. Great day for a hike!

What a great time for a hike

With few other options and being quite cold by this stage we had to keep moving and took on the pass. Cashmere struggled to breathe with the cold and altitude and coughed and coughed. It was a bad time to stop for a break. Our hands hurt so bad. Our merino gloves seem to do nothing, especially when wet.

And the climb up to the pass seemed to go on and on.


Eventually we summitted the pass and just when we did the sun came out.

Summit views with the improving weather

We were still too cold to stop long to enjoy the views, so we scurried down the mountain. Sadly there was only a little glissading action. Eventually we got down enough and warmed up enough to stop by a lake for dinner and when the Tits reached us they joined us too.

Dinner lake

Then we walked some more miles, reached where all the normal people were camping and decided to walk a bit more.

A 'grouse'. You should hear their call

By this time Cashmere was exhausted but Physio seemed to be moving faster than ever.

When we set up camp Cashmere washed her lower half in the nearby icy river. Then we went to bed.

Day 56

Luckily we had put our packs in a glissading rubbish bag the night before because it snowed a little more that night while we were sleeping.

Our campsite in the morning...after we shook the snow off the tent

Despite our best efforts to procrastinate in leaving so that the tent would dry, it just wasn’t warm enough and we had to do an icy-hands tent roll- up (brrr) and start walking.

At least the campsite had a good view

The theme of this second week in the high Sierras was taking on a different high pass each day. This day was no different. This day’s challenge was Mather Pass. Our first few miles took us up relatively gently, though of course you could tell you were climbing. Eventually the trees thinned, the quantity of snow piles increased as did our friends, Cheeky’s cousins: the marmots.

The path up to Mather Pass

We did like these crazy glacial valley views

However, in line with the tradition of the John Muir Trail (we were learning), the trail soon climbed steeply back and forth up rocky switchbacks. Cashmere was finding it really difficult to breathe and was coughing, coughing and moving slow. She’s not typically great with altitude, plus the air was cold. Physio was amazingly patient. She coughed more. Eventually we made it up the pass. Some hikers we know cheered for us but sadly Cashmere felt too awful to even really respond. We had a snack and started down the other side.

The north side of the 12,000 foot (~4000m) Mather pass was snowy once again and we didn’t hesitate to find some glissading opportunities, though it did require some open-minded exploration. Then wheeeeeeee! Only Physio was much better (or more enthusiastic) at it and Cashmere got a bit behind. In fact, Cashmere was probably a bit too out of it to be glissading unsupervised and 1) only held her ice axe with one hand, lost it, then had to climb back up to get it; and 2) apparently lost both of her water bottles while sliding though she didn’t realize this until many miles later. Luckily for Cashmere her friend Bushtit recognised one of the bottles later, picked it up, and carried it many miles to Cashmere. Lucky.

Eventually the glissading opportunities were exhausted and we continued the descending until we stopped for lunch. Poor Cashmere was still feeling unwell and insisted on laying down and making poor Physio make her peanut butter on crackers and hand them to her while she kept her eyes closed.

Finally lunch was over and we continued walking. However, Physio soon struggled as we encountered one of the steepest descents yet, which was complemented by an over-abundance of ankle-spraining rocks. At least the view was beautiful.

Views down the cliffs

Eventually we reached the valley floor which had some magnificently large trees for us to drool over and (finally) flat terrain and we got to smash some miles. We walked and walked until we found an exclusive, but very pleasant campsite.

Drool-worthy trees

By this time Cashmere’s voice had become really really crackly and we realised something was amiss with her. So while Jacob washed up in the nearby stream she made a campfire, at first just to burn the trail maps we were already past and used toilet paper, but then she kept it going just to stay warm. Eventually we put the nice fire out and went to bed.

Day 57

Cashmere coughed a lot at night and woke up the next day with basically no voice, more coughing and a continually running nose. She was sick. And we had to climb, climb, climb up yet another 12,000 foot Pass, Muir Pass, which was also reputed to have lots of snow and be postholing mayhem. Also we had 8 or 10 miles to walk/climb just to get to the pass too. Eek.

On the plus side, we were starting from a gorgeous canyon reminiscent of Yosemite National Park, but with bigger canyon walls.

Physio admiring the canyon walls

We're getting closer to Yosemite

And so we set out. Not far in Physio banned Cashmere from trying to eek out croaky words. She was only allowed to whisper so as to not make her voice and cold worse.

This hiking is hard, but rewarding

It was a long and hard climb, particularly for the member of the team whose lungs were so very congested. Plus we couldn’t even distract ourselves with conversation. There was definitely at least some questioning of why were even doing this.  But Physio was amazingly patient. 

Approaching Muir Pass

Around 2pm and after navigating through a large number of snowfields, we finally reached the summit of the pass which had an interesting rock shelter.

Approaching the summit and rock shelter

Lots of cute Cheeky-like marmots also abounded.

Aware that there was much more snow on the north side of the pass and that you aren’t really supposed to hit it in the late afternoon to avoid post-holing (oops) we didn’t stay on top of the pass for very long.

Cashmere hanging with the Tits outside the Muir Pass summit shelter

Sadly Muir Pass is quite flatish near the top (hence all the snow to post-hole in – the elevation doesn’t reduce for some time).

This made the glissading prospects very limited – although Physio tried anyway. With soft afternoon snow and not enough gradient Physio’s glissading attempts resulted in post holing with his butt. It got so bad Physio started trying to drag himself through the snow with his ice axe. Rather than doing the arse freezing butt bounce Cashmere elected to trudge through the snow in Physio’s wake.

When we eventually got down to an area with less snow we had a very late lunch by a mostly frozen lake with our friends the Tits. Cashmere struggled some more with not being able to talk to them.

Frozen lake by where we had lunch.

Then we descended further among interesting vistas and eventually had dinner.

Good views here
Spectacular vistas

Then we walked some more and made camp in a lovely secret spot by a river. We were exhausted.

View from our campsite

Day 58

The next day Cashmere insisted (via croaky whispers of course) that we go a bit off the trail to some free hot springs. She hoped they would help her get over her stubborn and miserable cold.

First we walked along the normal trail for some time. We crossed a big creek called ‘Evolution Creek’ and followed it as it turned into waterfalls.


Of course there were other good views too.

Good views up the valley

After some frustration related to 5 miles without water when we’d become completely spoiled with water sources in the Sierras, we began the hot springs alternate route and stopped by a river for lunch. An older woman came to fill up water and we started talking with her (actually Cashmere just made creepy croaky whispers and coughed a lot). Soon we found out that she was on her way back to walking the John Muir Trail southbound after delivering her friend with a badly sprained ankle to a mule train to evacuate her. Sadly she informed us that the hot springs we were trying to get to, weren’t in fact amazing, but rather shallow muddy pools. Poor us.

Anyway we finished lunch, walked to the hot pools junction and thought “what the heck” and headed toward them. However as we approached we saw some others we knew and they looked sad. Their report matched the other lady’s, except the pools were also lukewarm* so we climbed back up the hill disappointedly. The track back up to the PCT was probably the steepest that ever existed.

After rejoining the PCT we climbed a whole lot more as we now had to go over Seddon Pass. At only 11,000 feet Seddon Pass was described in our guidebook notes as “the easiest pass”.

Cashmere was feeling really gross after so many days of sweating and not showering and thus suggested a real poor man’s alternative to hot springs: jumping in a lake. However, the mosquitos were pretty bad around the first few lakes we encountered so we decided to jump in the lake closest to the pass where the mosquitos might not be so bad. The chosen lake was named Heart Lake – a romantic destination for a dip.

Upon arrival at Heart Lake we realised it was clearly being fed by the melt from very nearby snow fields. Also there were still a few mosquitos. So we decided to jump in as quick as we could then quickly warm up by hiking up to the top of the pass and cooking dinner there.

Cashmere waded into the freezing water up to her knees and contemplated jumping in. But man oh man she was already freezing and she was still super sick. But also disgusting…  Meanwhile the much braver Phsyio stripped down to nothing and ran past and jumped in. When he came up his eyeballs were popping out of his head and he looked like he would soon die. He immediately came straight back to shore and started frantically washing himself. The pressure was on.

Cashmere went back to shore, stripped down (“ah anyone who passes will be a hiker who would understand”) then she went and jumped in. Wooo-mama! It was sooooo cold you almost couldn’t feel it, but you could and it was cold. So we quickly rinsed our dirty clothes, scampered to shore, put on a few clothes, including our rain coat and basically ran up the pass.

The view of Heart Lake in the distance from the top of Seddon Pass. Note the snow.

Once on top we quickly cooked dinner, scarfed it down and then began descending down the other side. It was a bit snowy and beautiful.

The view north from Seddon Pass

The daylight was waning so we tried to hustle, plus the mosquitos were bad which was little surprise given how much water there was everywhere. Just on dusk we found a campsite by a creek and set up camp and fell asleep.

Waning daylight

Day 59

We woke up the next morning and tried  to balance accomplishing our morning chores with avoiding mosquitos. Then we set off and walked down through the woods, to a creek where we had to remove our shoes to cross and then on a long fairly flat stretch.

Just a classic day-to-day Sierra hiking scene

After we had some great snacks by a little stream we started climbing. On this day we had to climb Silver Pass which was around 11,000 feet but first we had to climb another sort of mini Pass. I don’t recall how much climbing exactly was required for the latter but it was a fair amount. And it was steep. But it was even steeper going down the other side. Physio almost lost it. And it was so annoying coming down the steep mini-pass slope because you knew you were just going to have to climb up the other side. Unfortunately we really didn’t have enough food to break it up with short days. Like most of the other hikers we had only just enough food and were hungry, so had to push on.

Just another day on the trail

The other side, the climb up to Silver Pass had some steep sections, including a nice waterfall that we climbed around.

Good-looking falls, good-looking man

We also reached yet another milestone: we had now walked 1/3 of the PCT. Yay. But what an effort and so much more to go.

Physio celebrating our outstanding and yet seemingly meager progress

Eventually we reached the top of Silver Pass.

Some Silver Pass view action

However, atop the pass and starting to come down the other side, Physio complained that his heart was hurting so we stopped each time. It was a little scary but he is still alive and kicking today so nothing too too serious. We think. Cashmere insisted that we eat dinner soon to give Physio and his heart a little rest but we did have to descend a bit to get to a slightly warmer area. That we did and as we ate dinner a nice fellow and real physiotherapist named ‘Howdy Doody’ walked by. He was a fantastically nice guy and asked Physio a few questions and said we were doing the right thing having a break and some food. 

Physio descending down Silver Pass, potentially with a heart attack

We finished dinner, descended some more and set up camp.

Day 60

The next day we awoke to some dark clouds. Cashmere was still coughing but was now coughing up some impressive chunks of mucous. Great.

Impressive mucous glob on a log

After breakfast we set off and not too long thereafter it began to rain a bit. We had about 18 miles to hike to Red’s Meadow where we would somehow get to Mammoth Lakes for a break. I don’t have too much to say about the hiking this day except that it rained basically all day and it was really cold. There was some thunder clapping too. We were antsy to get to Mammoth for a break, particularly sick Cashmere and with the cold rain we walked relatively fast for a change. We did pass the mile 900 marker.

Mile 900, in the rain.

Eventually we made it to Red’s Meadows. There is usually a bus that runs to Mammoth Lakes from Red’s Meadows but it was not yet running because it was too early in the year. Red’s Meadows is like a ranch resort at the end of a popular route in the Sierras. It is fairly close to a National Monument called the Devil’s Postpiles but the weather was atrocious. We did find one end-of-the-road tourist but he only had room for one person in his car.

With limited options Cashmere started scheming. She was desperate to get to the Mammoth Motel 6 and have a hot shower and get some warm food. She found a PCT hiker also looking to get to town. And his phone worked. The three of us were willing to pay a bit for a shuttle. The first guy whose number we had though answered and said he had sold his car to go hiking and he was out hiking! Another call yielded a $75 shuttle opportunity. Too much. So we decided to either try our luck hitching by a nearby campground or continue on to the Devil’s Postpiles if that didn’t work.

When we got to the campground we saw that there weren’t many people there and we so craved the luxuries of town. There were a few campers sitting in their cars with the engines on, presumably trying to warm up. Hmmmm…..Cashmere went and asked one of them if they would give us a ride to Mammoth Lakes for $30. I mean they were sitting in their cars anyway! One of them agreed. And so we sped off to the luxury of the Motel 6 with the heat blasting and the driver and her daughter telling us about the encounters with bears they had at the campground and reassuring us that they weren’t jealous of the hard adventure we were on.

I will stop there for now as this was a long hard section which seems to have yielded a correspondingly long blog entry. (Sorry.) But our next section was a small one so I will begin that entry with our Mammoth happenings.

Thanks for reading and sorry if we are whinging too much, just trying to be real with the trials and tribulations of a PCT hike. In the high Sierras. With a cold. And never enough to eat!

*we’ve since heard from yet others that the hot pools were great and that these people just didn’t walk far enough, which Cashmere was suspicious might be the case.